Speed-Bumps, Double U-Turns and 'bamboons'... Oh my!
Brendon and Rachel of "The Amazing Race"
When "The Amazing Race
" wins its inevitable Emmys and people rant about the lazy and predictable choice that voters have made, I usually rush to the show's defense.
My argument is always that even if I sometimes prefer seasons of "Top Chef" or "Survivor" or "American Idol," the production scope of "Amazing Race" is on a totally different scale and that the show's technical excellence, particularly when it comes to editing, should never be underestimated.
I say that as a way to be nice and complimentary before getting to this:
Sunday (April 15) night's episode of "The Amazing Race" was an egregiously poorly edited episode of television. It was 40+ minutes of poor pacing and character choices, lousy continuity and confusing narrative progression. Tension was generated in perplexing ways and then defused. Finally, because of equally poor Race architecture, the editors had to practically give up, as the Leg was determined by a couple uninteresting tasks that were wedged into the last four minutes of the episode.
More after the break, but I really don't know how much effort I feel like putting into this...
Like I said, I was confused by Sunday's episode and it felt like the editors were also confused, because they were seemly dealt what ought to have been the dullest hand imaginable.
Last week, we saw Fake Teachers Nary & Jamie struggle to set up a safari-style tent at the end of a Non-Elimination Leg in Africa. We knew they had problems, because they squandered an advantage over several teams on their way to a last-place finish. We had no idea how much they had actually struggled. It turns out that Nary & Jamie began Sunday's Leg two hours behind Vanessa & Ralph in next-to-last and more than three hours behind the leaders, Rachel & Dave. With a Speed-Bump coming up and with the looming prospect of a Double U-Turn, there was absolutely zero chance that Nary & Jamie could recover on a Leg without major travel or equalizers and with the current "Amazing Race" reticence to commit to genuinely time consuming challenges.
And they didn't! Nary & Jamie started the Leg in last, finished the Leg in last and they were eliminated from The Race.
And yet somehow, Sunday's leg became weirdly close, but the editors were incapable of explaining how that occurred. Nor were they able to make that turn of events seem exciting.
The commitment, at least initially, was to natural photography. "The Amazing Race" spent a lot of money and effort going HD, so Sunday's episode started with 10 minutes of the teams driving through the Ngorongoro Crater and pointing at animals and smiling and talking about how this was a respite from The Race. I get why they need a respite from The Race. They're on it. While viewers like animals too, we've had a week's respite from The Race already, so the sluggish beginning to the episode was a problem and gave a not-so-broad hint that the challenges on the leg were less worthy of screentime than... "bamboons," as Blonde Rachel called them.
The Detour was the choice between Air Supply and Water Supply and it was not a valid choice. In Air Supply, teams had to learn to change the tire on a bicycle. In Water Supply, teams had to collect containers and go stand in line at a well, fill the containers and take them to a house.
Let me make this clear: "Standing in line" should never be a key component of an "Amazing Race" task and if you've designed a task that includes "standing in line" as its most time consuming element, you've done something wrong.
The teams, not being stupid, all selected Air Supply, with the exception of Art & JJ, who suffered from flawed logic regarding the bicycle task, got to the Stand in Line task and decided they'd wasted too much time getting there to go back to the other Detour. What the heck?
To make matters worse, Air Supply was a boring Detour, one that didn't tax any of the teams and one that was only barely more telegenic than the Stand in Line Detour.
To make matters even worse, because of the Double U-Turn, two additional teams still had to do the Stand in Line Detour.
The Double U-Turn was another problem. Apparently Dave & Rachel and Art & JJ made an agreement to U-Turn Team Big Brother if ever they got the chance. But Rachel & Dave decided that with the Fake Teachers so far behind, there was no point in stirring up the additional animosity, so they let Team Big Brother slide. Art & JJ, however, remained true to their word and they U-Turned Rachel & Brendon. Then JJ spent the rest of the episode whining about honor and dignity and being true to your word and how Rachel & Dave were horrible scoundrels because they'd... OH WHO CARES?!? Art sure didn't care. With his partner ranting and raving on multiple car journeys and at the Roadblock and at the Pit Stop, Art kept his mouth shut. But the editors wanted to make sure that we hate Art & JJ, so they included several minutes of JJ's ramblings. And mission accomplished.
Personally, I think once you get to a Double U-Turn mat and you've been U-Turned, I think your U-Turning is the primary action and you should have to go back and finish the other Detour before you're allowed to use a U-Turn on another team. The "Amazing Race" producers disagree with me, so Team Big Brother was able to U-Turn Vanessa & Ralph.
This was important because somehow Vanessa & Ralph had blundered away the bulk of their two-hour advantage over Jamie & Nary. I'm not in any way satisfied with the answer to the episode's most important question: How the heck did that lead get blundered away? I just can't accept that Vanessa and Ralph spent two solid hours wandering around Karatu looking for the "Hillary Clington" gas stand that every other team found easily and that the locals had successfully directed four previous teams to. Somewhere, there was a blunder or confusion of proportions so epic that I needed it better illustrated for me. This was like Bill & Cathi getting lost in Taiwan last season, a massive wound that was totally self-inflicted and therefore had to be at least somewhat justified. To me, that's what the episode was. To the editors, the episode was baby zebras and JJ being an insufferable twit, plus the obligatory allotment of "Big Brother" Rachel Cries About Something Tough time.
Somehow, though, with 10 minutes remaining in the episode, Vanessa & Ralph's advantage over Jamie & Nary was down to nothing. But we knew that was an illusion, because there was a Speed-Bump and a Roadblock coming up. The Speed-Bump asks Jamie & Nary to set up a stand for a local art show. It wasn't hard, but it took exactly enough time to end their comeback, since the only task remaining in the episode was a dud of a Roadblock asking a contestant to don a beekeeper's suit and harvest 500 grams of honey. It is neither hard nor time consuming to gather 500 grams of honey.
So farewell to Jamie & Nary. I'll never understand why you thought there was value to lying about your job, but I guess I'll ask tomorrow.
Other thoughts on Sunday's episode before I give up to go watch "Mad Men"...
*** Art & JJ started the Race seeming like they were endearingly Type-A and ultra-competitive, but the "endearing" part has vanished. When they picked a fight with Rachel & Brendon, it was OK, because it's never unprovoked to pick a fight with Brendon & Rachel. But after picking fights with Jamie & Nary and now with Dave & Rachel, they're only coming across as bullies.
*** I'm a bit concerned about Bopper's knee and I think that he and Mark made a big mistake on the Roadblock. They had some concerns about Bopper's physical condition, but it turned out that the beekeeping Roadblock didn't require walking, much less running. This was exactly the right Roadblock for an injured contestant to do and they'll be hard-pressed to find anything better for Bopper to tackle in upcoming legs.
*** Y'all know I'm partial to Vanessa both for aesthetic reasons and because I think she'd genuinely and intentionally funny, but yowza she's not good under pressure. I got a good chuckle out of her pronouncement, "We have the best luck with cabs," followed instantly by the flat tire.
*** Points to Art and "Big Brother" Rachel -- See? I can give credit where it's due -- for referencing Winnie the Pooh during their honey-gathering.
Did you love Sunday's episode? Will you care at all that Jamie and Nary are gone?
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